Interview with Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa is a mountain photographer in China with an amazing portfolio of images from the Siguniangshan, or Four Girls Mountains. I discovered Kenzo’s work years ago on SummitPost.org, where he is a regular contributor. Kenzo was gracious enough to answer my questions via an email interview, as follows.

Be sure to check out Kenzo’s photo collection at his online gallery and also at his SummitPost gallery.


Judging from your photos, the Four Girls Mountains are incredibly beautiful and spectacular mountains. What kind of travel/trekking is required to get to the locations where you photograph?

The altitude of Four Girls Mountains is not as high as Nepal’s Himalayas, and some mountaineers call them “An ordinary part of lesser Himalayas.” But the mountain appeal is not decided only by altitude. I think that Four Girls Mountains are not stunning mountains, but they are particularly beautiful mountains. A town lying at the foot of the mountain is Rilong town, Xiaojin County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China.

It is around 31 degrees of north latitude, 103 degrees of east longitude. Three hours by range airplane from Shanghai to Chengdu of Sichuan Province. And 7 hours by bus from Chengdu(Chadianzi Bus Station) to Rilong Town.

Because the altitude is not high, from the town it is easy to access the locations where I photograph. Usually it takes one day by walking or horseback.

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Andrew Skurka & the Great Western Loop

“On November 3, 2007, Andrew Skurka became the first person to complete the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, an ambitious journey that links the American West’s great long-distance hiking trails to traverse 12 National Parks and over 75 wilderness areas. Skurka, 26, completed his expedition by walking an average of 33 miles per day for 208 straight days, covering a distance equivalent to 262 marathons or twice the distance between Boston and San Francisco.”

Great Western Loop

This trek blows my mind. 33 miles a day. 208 days! Just the planning for this trip alone would be a monumental project, not to mention actually DOING it!

Andrew would be appalled if he saw me and my enormous backpack with 20 pounds of camera gear. I take a slow pace and enjoy relaxing and spending more time in each place I go, but I still dream about what it would be like to thru-hike a long trail. How would it feel to hike through the desert for weeks on end and then ascend up into the lush mountains? To experience first hand the great range of landscapes and climate on a continental scale?

Andrew’s excellent and extensive trip reports from his Great Western Loop adventure shed some light on the experience.

A Few Afternoon Shots

Here’s a couple photos from snowboarding this afternoon in the rugged peaks about five minutes drive from Ouray. March is here, and spring seems right around the corner, even though everything is still smothered in fresh snow. The sun is really getting higher in the sky these days, and the foot of fresh snow that fell last night had melted to a crusty 5 or 6 inches by the time we got out there for an afternoon run. Oh well… next powder day I’ll head out in the morning if I can.

splitboarding
Here’s Parker splitboarding up in front of a rugged San Juan backdrop.

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Google Earth: A Tool for the Landscape Photographer

I am primarily a wilderness landscape photographer. I enjoy backpacking for miles and miles into the wilderness, oftentimes where no trails exist and I have to find my own way with just my map, compass, and instincts. Whenever I plan a trip, I think about the vistas I might encounter, and of course the potential for photographing these vistas. If you’ve taken a peek at my photo gallery yet, you’ll see that I really like the grand scenics. I savor those huge expansive views and unique perspectives on rugged peaks, and I try to capture those scenes on film.

I spend hours pouring over topo maps, thinking about where I want to hike and camp. Topo maps can’t be beat for planning hiking routes, but when it comes to previsualizing potential photo opportunities, Google Earth is an incredible tool.

Wetterhorn Peak on Google

Wetterhorn Peak
Wetterhorn Peak, a remote 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of Colorado, as seen on Google Earth, and in real life. This is one of those unique views that I had seen while I was flying around Wetterhorn in Google Earth, and thought it was a great perspective. So I went there during a two-night backpacking trip – hiked to the location on a high ridgeline, and hung out for several hours keeping an eye on the clouds and waiting for sunset light.

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Pillow Heaven

Pillow Heaven
Click picture to see a large version

Today we rode what was perhaps the best snowboarding terrain I’ve ever ridden in my life. This was a long, steep, narrow gully that we had previously scoped out from a neighboring mountain. What I couldn’t see from a distance is that the sides of this gully were loaded with a plethora of fluffy pillows! Many backcountry riders might agree that the only thing better than a nice steep halfpipe gully is a long series of marshmallowy pillow drops. Well, this run was the ultimate 2-in-1 combo!

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The Igloo Experiment

igloo.jpg

This weekend my friends Momo and Pavel drove up from New Mexico to go winter camping with me.  Our plan was to try out this new Igloo making tool that I recently bought.  The tool is specially made for constructing igloos – it is basically a curved box attached to a pole which is staked in the center.  You rotate the box around the center radius and keep packing snow into it to form perfect blocks, spiraling up layer upon layer and adjusting the pole to preset lengths as you go, eventually forming a perfectly egg-shaped igloo.  Simple enough in theory.

We hiked up about 1600 feet above Ouray and at 2:30pm started building the igloo on a flat ledge with a nice vista to the west.  The manufacturers claim a 3 hours build time, so just to be safe I was planning on 4 hours (after all we had three people).  Well, long story short, it took us 8 hours to build this damn thing!  It was pretty nerve-wracking when we realized how long it was taking, since we were depending on the igloo shelter for our warmth in the bitter cold night.  Plus we were never quite sure whether it would really work or not. We could have always just packed up and followed our tracks back down to the truck, but we were pretty exhausted from the hike up, and were determined to make this thing work.  Well, with headlamps and a large dose of stubborn determination, we finally completed the entire igloo at 10:30 at night.

Though the igloo took a surprisingly huge amount of effort to build, it really was pretty awesome when it was done.  Outside was blowing snow, with temps in the single digits, but inside the igloo was calm, peaceful, and relatively warm.  Too bad we didn’t have much time to enjoy it, as we all pretty much immediately got into our sleeping bags and crashed for the night.

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